Price of Produce Linked With Weight Gain in Children, Study Finds
Children who live in areas where fruits and vegetables are more expensive are more likely to gain excess weight than those who live in areas where such foods are less expensive, according to a study recently published in the journal Public Health, the Wall Street Journal reports. For the study, RAND senior economist Roland Sturm and colleagues examined the weight increases of 6,918 children in 59 cities nationwide. Researchers compared the amount of the weight increases in children from kindergarten through third grade with the approximate price of produce in the cities. In addition, researchers compared food prices with the cost of other expenses in the cities, such as transportation and housing (Rundle, Wall Street Journal, 10/6).
Researchers did not examine the diets of the children. On average, the study found that the children gained 29 pounds. However, children who lived in the cities with the highest relative prices for produce gained about 50% more excess weight than average, and those who lived in the cities with the lowest relative prices gained about 50% less excess weight than average, the study found.
The study based the weight measurements on body mass index. According to the study, many children who live in lower-income areas have similar access to grocery stores as those who live in higher-income areas (Nguyen, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5). The study found no link between excess weight gain and the prevalence of grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and other restaurants near their homes.
Susan Foerster, chief of cancer prevention and nutrition at the California Department of Health Sciences, said the study "could be very important in focusing policy efforts at the state and local level," adding that the results could help support proposals to provide financial incentives to increase consumption of produce among low-income individuals (Wall Street Journal, 10/6).
Foerster said, "Lower-income families are more price-sensitive. They have to be careful with how much they spend in food." However, Elizabeth Frazao, a USDA economist, said, "There's this perception that fruits and vegetables are expensive when maybe it's not so much the cost, but the pleasure and taste people get" from less healthy foods (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/5).
In related news, the amount of time that children spend watching television serves as "a significant predictor of body-mass index and being overweight," according to a study recently conducted by researchers at Otago University Medical School in New Zealand. For the study, researchers tracked almost 1,000 children born in 1972 and measured their television viewing habits and BMI every two years between ages five and 15.
According to the study, by age 26, 41% of participants were overweight or obese, "an outcome that was significantly related to the amount of television they watched during childhood." Lead study author Bob Hancox said, "TV viewing is more strongly associated with an increased BMI than diet or activity levels have been reported to be" (AP/Omaha World-Herald, 10/6).